Star Trek: ‘Discovery’ is “Coming Home” – But to What?
With “Coming Home” out in the world, Star Trek: Discovery season four is in the books. We made it. Planets blew up, countless people died, and the Kübler-Ross stages of grief were heavily examined. And now all that’s is the most important part: this recap.
Going into the final episode of Star Trek: Discovery‘s fourth season, there was a lot of ground to cover. Captain Burnham needs to catch Book’s ship, the crew needs to re-establish contact with Species Ten-C, and the world has to not end. Easy!
The other big question going into the season finale is one of consequences. The Ten-C were communicating until Ndoye helped Tarka blow a hole through an intergalactic space bubble. Book, Tarka, and Ndoye all take turns this season messing up and so there’s a question of what price they will pay and if they will be redeemed through that paying.
More than anything though, this fourth season has required patience. You’ll notice among even the most ardent DISCO fans a feeling of frustration. There’s a collective sound, in stereo, of people tapping their feet and waiting for the Ten-C storyline to end. Is the wait worth it? Before we get to that, let’s go to the videotape.
To Boldly Recap
Ensign Tilly and Admiral Vance are on a giant, mobile space station. Together with the entire might of Starfleet, the team is doing their best to get as many people out of the Alpha Quadrant as possible. This is not a safety precaution. The assumption seems to be that Discovery will not succeed in communicating with the Ten-C. Safe bet!
Back on Discovery, all the pieces on the board are moving at warp speed despite the fact that the ship is still trapped in a bubble. Ndoye admits to Burnham and Rillak that she is the saboteur and is confined to quarters. T’Rina successfully mindmelds with the Ten-C, discovers but the Ten-C don’t seem to perceive a difference between Discovery and Book’s ship. In fact, the Ten-C don’t seem to understand individuality at all.
In short, the plan is to use the spore drive to get out of the bubble, chase down Book’s ship, and re-open negotiations with the Ten-C. However, using the spore drive this way will destroy it, and catching Book’s ship won’t be easy. Thankfully, on Book’s ship, Book and Reno finally manage to escape Tarka’s clutches. Reno trasnports back to Discovery while Book battles Tarka.
With the spore drive mangled beyond simple repair, Discovery heads for Book’s ship. Ndoye volunteers to take a shuttle and ram it into Book’s ship to stop Tarka. Meanwhile, Tarka basically admits to being wrong about everything and tells Book he’s a good friend in so many words. Book beams away, Ndoye slams her shuttle into Book’s ship, and both vessels are destroyed.
Unfortunately, while Ndoye returns safely, Tarka is (most likely) dead and it seems that Book’s signal is lost on its way to Discovery. On the plus side, the Ten-C want to chat!
Second Verse (Mostly) Same As The First
The DMA is about to destroy the Alpha Quadrant, but, as predicted, the Ten-C re-open negotiations. The Ten-C understand that the Federation has many individuals in it rather than acting as a collective mind. Rillak explains both that Tarka is a massive dingus and that the DMA is going to kill a lot of innocent people. The Ten-C chill it with the death weapon. Hooray!
The Ten-C want to know why Burnham persists in being such a Debbie Downer despite the day being saved. Burnham explains that Book is dead and that she loves him. Don’t worry, it turns out the Ten-C intercepted Book’s transporter signal and have had it in their back pocket this whole time. Book isn’t dead! Hooray!
Book tells the Ten-C they can never use the DMA again and the Ten-C agree. This means that the Ten-C are no longer hiding behind a hyperfield. Simultaneously, Starfleet is also more out and proud than they’ve ever been. The season closes with Earth rejoining the Federation and Book being sentenced to the intergalactic equivalent of community service. The end.
To Boldly Review
Let’s break down Discovery‘s entire fourth season as though it were a single, five act episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For science! Stick with me, I think it’s going to be worth it. I don’t think we can talk about this final episode or this season of DISCO as a whole until we put it in the context of classic Trek as a point of comparison. Here we go!
Teaser: The Enterprise D receives a distress call from a small, fast-moving vessel. While beaming the one crew member aboard, the Enterprise is struck by a massive energy wave. Captain Picard instructs Data to set a course for the origin point of the wave. The Enterprise discovers what remains of a planet but no indication of what rendered an entire world to rubble.
To Boldly Fanfic
Act One: Picard speaks with the lone survivor, Ruon Tarka. Tarka is a scientist who is tracking similar, world-ending events. He believes there is a unifying threat behind it all. La Forge and Data tell Picard Tarka’s theories are possible. Picard instructs the pair to work with Tarka before another world is destroyed.
Act Two: La Forge, Data, and Tarka discover where the next attack is likely to take place. Tarka seems off, like he’s less interested in saving lives and more interested in revenge. The Enterprise arrives at the next attack site to discover they are too late. Tarka kidnaps La Forge, takes his ship back, and flies towards a rift leading to an unknown part of space.
Act Three: Tarka’s intention is to destroy those responsible for ending countless lives, but Data states that there is no indication that the entities responsible are acting out of malice. Troi senses great fear, but she can’t tell from where. With the rift about to close, Picard takes the crew in to stop Tarka.
Act Four: Tarka forces La Forge to help him prepare a weapon. Meanwhile, Troi and Data collect information from inside this new part of space. It seems to be full of empathic energy all sourced from one gas giant. As the Enterprise intercepts Tarka’s ship, Picard, Troi, Data, Tarka, and La Forge are all beamed to the gas giant where enormous alien beings await them.
Act Five: Troi and Data communicate with these new lifeforms. It turns out they were farming for Boromite and did not realize they were killing anyone. The new beings fill Tarka with the sorrow they feel. He cries and Picard opines how much worse things would have been if first contact had been made out of fear.
Why Did This Story Take A Whole Season?
Would that have been a perfect Star Trek: The Next Generation episode? No, probably not. It would be one of those also-rans from around season four where Picard moralizes too much and not everything makes perfect sense. A two (or three) parter would correct that, though. But, for the love of Roddenberry, it doesn’t take thirteen episodes to explore every nook and cranny of this concept.
DISCO, conceptually at least, takes a more nuanced view of the classic TNG morality play. But in the case of the Ten-C and of “Coming Home” in particular, it doesn’t feel like all that extra time is worth spending. Considering that, of the three people who all went rogue and made terrible decisions, only one of them dies, I’d say this season-long story ends on a shallow note.
It feels cheap when Book isn’t dead. I want to feel happy for Burnham and Book, but this is unearned. Rillak and Burnham talk about the Kobayashi Maru at the beginning and end of this season. That test is all about accepting the no win scenario. And yet, here we are, and the only major life lost is the guy who no one likes.
And Your President of the Earth is…
Throughout the episode we keep hearing about the President of Earth. And, by about the third time she came up, I knew for sure there was stunt casting afoot. Earth’s president is played by gubernatorial hopeful Stacey Abrams. You know… the lady who is a big part of why Joe Biden is the current, sitting President of the United States.
And, listen, if you love this choice, I love that for you. There are thing about it that I love, too! Seeing Abrams as a leader for the world surrounded by multiple other Black women all in leadership positions is nice! I do not wish to subtract from that. However, I would also add to that my personal concern over casting a well-known politician in such a role when history has yet to be truly written on said politician. I’m a huge wet blanket! I know!
I’m happy for Stacey Abrams! She’s a huge nerd who loves Star Trek and I hope we’ll all look back on her role as Earth President and think it aged enormously well.
Hope For The Future
Seeing Starfleet ships above Earth as the planet re-enters the Federation feels good. And the scene where Culber, Stamets, and Adira all stand together as a found family feels good, too. Even Book being sent off to help people displaced by the DMA feels good. There are things worth celebrating at the end of this fourth season of Star Trek: Discovery.
But Star Trek: Discovery? Madame? The Red Angel? The Burn? The Ten-C? We have got to stop meeting like this. This whole fourth season is about finding open communication even when open communication feels impossible. So, from one Star Trek fan watching DISCO to those Star Trek fans making DISCO, this story took too long. And the individual character arcs we did get were too muted by comparison.
This season started with Discovery reaching out to non-Federation worlds, one by one, to rebuild good will. And this season ended with the Federation as a whole more capable of reaching out and exploring than ever.
The argument Book makes at the end of the season to the Ten-C about how putting up walls causes more harm than it offers protection is an important one! It was a beautiful moment! I loved it!
Next time just tell it in a two-parter, okay?
Questions, Queries, Quibbles
Well, we made it to the end. All that’s left is for you to tell us how you felt about this season. And, more importantly, tell us what you predict for Star Trek: Discovery season 5. What characters do you want to hear more from? Do you still want another season long arc? Tell us your wish list!
Until next season, this is your humble recapper signing off. Computer: end program.
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